Less than a year after voters approved a proposal to increase taxes, the Clay County School Board is again asking voters to support a tax hike.
Last month, the Clay County School Board voted to support sending a proposed half-cent sales tax to voters for a special election later this year.
The Clay County Commission shot down the request. Now school board members say they are prepared to bring a lawsuit for a special election covering their proposed tax increase. According to state law, any type of a referendum requested by the local school district must be placed on the ballot by the local governing body. In Clay County, that local governing body includes the county commission.
The school board members say the county, which continues to grow, needs $350 million for upgrades plus another $300 million to build new schools. Their proposal would last 30 years and bring in around $13.5 million annually.
Clay School Board Member Janice Kerekes said the tax increase needs to go before voters this year.
“We need to stop playing politics and put our children first because they are the ones that will suffer,” Kerekes said. “Let the voters have their say and let them decide.”
But members of the county commission who oppose a special election say they are not against letting the voters decide. Instead, they would rather see the tax increase proposal on the 2020 ballot where there will be less costs for the taxpayers and a higher voter turnout.
County Commissioner Gavin Rollins had problems with the board’s legal challenge.
“If the school board desperately needs money, then suing us costs money–which is additional taxpayer expenses,” said Rollins.
Last August, Clay County voters approved a property tax increase to fund school security but the language included in the proposal also included the phrase to “provide for necessary operating expenses for the School District.”
Some observers have interpreted that language to include money to spend on current school upgrades.
“Two tax increases in one year is going to anger some voters,” said Roger Henderson, the news director for Talk Radio WBOB.
According to Clay County School Assistant Superintendent of Operations Michael Kemp, the school board’s only funding option is to raise the local sales tax because the district can’t bond education costs.
If the county commission won’t give in, Kerekes said the district has already authorized the legal challenge.
Reach Ed Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.